I’m sitting with Nick Ozment, chief creative officer and company trainer at Rochester Trolley & Tour Co, as our trolley, Alfred, trundles through the gloom of an October Tuesday in Rochester. We are on our way to pick up members of the Mayo Clinic’s recovery claims services department. Together, our squad will turn over the slick stones of Rochester’s past to discover dark secrets lurking beneath.
The city has plenty to spill. Literal skeletons in the closet. Ghostly audiences at the Civic Theatre. A compelling electronic voice phenomenon recorded in the Plummer House basement. Kitchen table surgeries. Haunted prison tunnels. Kahler Hotel spirits.
Gathering these dark tales is a task Ozment has devoted himself to for the last six years. When he started working at the Trolley & Tour Co., doing a haunted tour was his first suggestion.
Our journey begins downtown. Ozment points out the Heritage House, and talks about kitchen table surgeries. Then he points across the street and traces the path of the tornado which killed 37 people in 1883. Down the street, he shows us the Avalon building. In the not-so-distant history of our nation, the building was a blacks-only hotel. Someone burned a cross in front of it during the fight over segregation. A shadowy figure is supposed to have been seen lurking by the old front desk area.
That figure, Ozment explains, is probably a residual hauntings, or a “psychic tape” which replays echoes of past events. There are also intelligent hauntings, as we will soon learn.
The trolley creeps to a stop beside the recently abandoned Wendy’s building on South Broadway. Ozment gestures across the river and points out Indian Heights, a Native American burial site which was wiped out by a tornado. Through the trees, he explains, you can also see Hilltop House, a limestone mansion used by Al Capone’s crime syndicate. He tells a story about a babysitter who reported unexplained locked doors, feelings of being watched, and things moving on their own. Kids she babysat told her they didn’t want to hang out on the third floor because, they “Didn’t like to talk to the people.”
That one sent a collective chill down everyone’s spine.
Later, we checked out the State Hospital cemetery, where, for years, people used the hill as a winter playground, no idea they were sledding over forgotten graves.
My afternoon trolley ride was something of an anomaly; the haunted ride is almost always done under cover of night as, according to ghost hunter Nancy “Hawk” Horvath, nighttime is the best time for focusing your senses. Normally, under the cover of darkness, there are more stops and the tour ends with a mini investigation with Horvath.
Our ride ended at 3:00, just as the sun escaped the clouds. Its light was a welcome respite from the darkness we’d just trolley’d through. Despite the blood-cooling paranormal tales we’d heard, Iwas left most disturbed by the tragic saga of Joe Mayo, Ruth Mayo, and the ex-husband of the wicked witch of the West. It’s a story you’ll have to hear from Ozment if you want the full effect, but it underscores perfectly the idea that, no matter what’s going bump in the night, the human heart’s capacity for love, cruelty, selfishness, and despair is what we all need to keep an eye on.